California Urged to Monitor Farms for Food Safety
States Can Move Faster Than the Federal Government to Implement Standards, Says CSPI
WASHINGTON—The state of California should move quickly to adopt regulations governing the production of fruit and vegetables in California since no federal agency has yet adopted standards, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a legal petition filed with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Department of Health Services Director Sandra Shewry, CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said that mandatory regulations governing manure, water and sanitation on farms could help reduce the number of produce-borne food outbreaks, such as the recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 traced to California-farmed spinach.
“California should implement standards to protect its consumers and its produce industry, instead of waiting for Congress or one of the federal agencies with food safety responsibilities to step in,” DeWaal said. “This is clearly a case where prompt action at the state level could prevent future outbreaks.”
CSPI urged the officials to adopt measures similar to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards that meat and poultry producers are required to comply with nationwide. HACCP systems coupled with test and hold programs for ground beef have proven effective in reducing the number of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to beef. Meanwhile, outbreaks linked to fresh produce have increased in recent years, according to CSPI. In addition to the recent spinach outbreak, tomatoes, lettuces, melons, sprouts, carrot juice and other foods contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella or other pathogens have caused outbreaks. Those pathogens are usually—though not always—linked back to animal agriculture, which CSPI says warrants a particular regulatory focus on manure and water.
The same strain of E. coli that sickened 200 and killed at least three in the recent spinach outbreak has been matched with that of cattle manure found near one of the spinach fields at issue. CSPI says that the use of raw manure as fertilizer should be prohibited during the growing season, and that composting practices should be monitored to ensure pathogens are destroyed. Water used for irrigation must be tested and found suitable and only drinkable water should be used in produce processing facilities, according to the group.
CSPI’s petition also urges better hygiene and sanitation on farms, and for improved package markings that can be used to track back produce to the farm of origin.
“We are reaching a tipping point, where consumers may not trust voluntary industry programs and instead may choose to stop eating foods that are both convenient and vital to good health. I don’t think Salinas County growers can afford to be the cause of another large outbreak,” DeWaal said. “California often takes the lead in health and food safety issues when the federal government is slow to act. The state should exercise its leadership in this instance by giving our food supply a safe start on its farms.”
The petition CSPI filed with the state of California is available at http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/ca_produce_petition.pdf.
In other action, last week CSPI wrote to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to request that the department do a fair and accurate reporting of the deaths and illnesses linked to the recent spinach outbreak. Specifically, CSPI asked that Leavitt declare June Edith Dunning, an elderly Maryland woman who died September 13 from complications due to E. coli 0157:H7, as the fourth fatal victim of the spinach outbreak that affected consumers in 26 states and further, that Leavitt personally assess the methods being used by CDC to distinguish “official” cases from “suspect” cases and give a full accounting of the public health impact of this outbreak.
The letter to Leavitt is available at http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/leavitt_letter.pdf.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).